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Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

Ben Simmons and the Debate Around Athlete Mental Health

The conversation around mental health in sports has gained universal traction after Simone Biles’ shockingly early retirement from the 2020 Summer Olympics. Now, Ben Simmons has claimed that he is mentally unfit to play after racking up $1.4 million in fines for missed practices and games, sparking controversy on this questionable timeline.   

Simmons’ claims come off of a particularly disappointing end to the Philadelphia 76ers’ season.  Simmons often appeared afraid to shoot in the playoffs, once passing on an uncontested dunk in Game 7 against the Hawks. The Hawks may have found their way into Simmons’ head, and he seemed to be afraid to get fouled due to his struggles at the free-throw line.  

Following this game and with four years left on his contract, Simmons has since requested a trade. He expressed no longer wanting to be a part of the Sixers and refused to show up to training camp since he felt his team was no longer a supportive environment.

Even when Simmons showed up unannounced to practice on Oct. 11, he was highly criticized for having what looked to be a phone in his pocket. Simmons’ choice to keep his phone on him during practice seemed to signal his low commitment to the team. This was further emphasized after he got kicked out of practice and suspended for one game by Doc Rivers for refusing to take part in defensive drills. Ten days later, he claimed, on top of a back injury, to not be mentally ready to return. His mental health issues kept him from playing in Philadelphia’s home opener against the Nets on Oct. 22. 

While the Sixers are publicly supportive of Simmons during this time, there is still uncertainty on where he stands. Simmons has yet to meet with the team's doctors to discuss his mental state, leaving them in the dark. 

The question at hand here is whether or not Simmons is abusing the system or simply letting it work for him in the way that it should. This necessitates transparency. Yet does Simmons have a responsibility to fans to speak publicly on this? If somebody no longer wants to play for his or her team, does that account for being mentally unfit to play because his or her heart is no longer in it? Who are we to say whether or not somebody is struggling with mental health?

It is difficult for fans to see past their emotional reaction to a player who was giving up shots and doesn’t seem to be trying to improve for himself and his team. This shows how we often lose sight of the human aspect of athletes: the paradox of them as human capital. There's this complex push-and-pull between treating players as assets to a larger business and allowing them to make and grow from their mistakes to enable them to become better players. So, ultimately, is it productive to question Simmons’ mental health, when, at the end of the day, all that fans want is to see him back on the court?

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